Let’s All Make Fun of Tom’s Brackets (2021 Edition)

Although my March Madness expertise remains as low as it was in 2011, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, I am at least reinvigorated following the absence of a tournament last year.  It won’t be quite the same as it would be in a normal season, but at least we have some games to watch.

Still, I can’t quite get over the late-season swoon by my beloved beliked(?) Richmond Spiders.  This turned out to be the most disappointing season of my lifetime, as several brushes with COVID-19 derailed most of the momentum that the senior-laden team had coming off of a strong 24-7 campaign.  I can only hope that they somehow win the NIT Tournament—a tournament I didn’t realize was happening until 48 hours before tipoff! 

Three wins to go as of this writing.  Go Spiders!

As for the Big Dance, I based everything on the idea that Gonzaga is clearly the best team in the country (they’re undefeated and have won all but one game by double-digits), but that nobody can go undefeated in today’s game.  Therefore, Baylor (or, more likely, someone I didn’t pick) will knock off the Zags before they complete the task.  If that powerhouse Kentucky team of a few years ago couldn’t do it, it seems like the odds are against it, even if Gonzaga is the clear favorite, if that makes sense.

Look, I’m seconds away from getting into an explanation of probability and “The Monty Hall Problem,” and nobody wants that.  Let’s end it here.  Laugh away:

NCAA Bracket 2021

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The WandaVision Series Finale

And, so, the first (and, presumably, only) season of WandaVision came to a conclusion with Episode 9, “The Series Finale.”  Before I get into the spoiler-y bits, let me recap the key finale expectations I had after last week’s episode.  They were as follows:

1. A segue into Multiverse of Madness, possibly with a Dr. Strange cameo (or at least a reference).
2. A definitive answer about why Quicksilver looks like that.
3. A definitive answer as to Vision’s fate.
4. The destruction of the Hex and the restoration of Westview.
5. A non-definitive answer as to Wanda’s good / bad alignment, possibly including her killing Hayward.
6. Agatha, a natural tweener, winds up on the side of “good” by the end of the episode in an effort to contain Wanda.
7. REED RICHARDS (or, in a swerve, Victor Von Doom)
8. A fully-powered Monica / Spectrum.
9. An hour-long episode, or close to it.

How’d we do?  Well, if you’ve watched the episode already, you know.

But, for those who didn’t and don’t . . .


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No Multiverse Required

Over the last month, WandaVision seemingly opened the door to a much larger multiverse, but still left several crucial issues unresolved.

Episode 8, “Previously On,” gave us a few answers, and seemingly ruled out some of the more wild-eyed possibilities.

Well, maybe.  It will be difficult to separate red herrings from genuine truths right up until the end-credits scene of next week’s final episode.  For now, we do have some unambiguous clarity about what’s been happening in Westview.


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Dead is Dead – Or Is It?

Over the past three weeks, WandaVision has gone from “show I watch every week when I get a chance” to “a must-watch show the day it comes out” to “show I get up early on Friday to watch first thing.”  The only remaining rung on this maniacal ladder is “show I stay up until 3:00 AM Eastern to see the moment it’s available.”

While we’re not there yet, Episode 7 (“Breaking the Fourth Wall”) did a lot to set the stage for the final two episodes.

There were several curious aspects to this episode, but we also got some major hints as to what’s going on (and what’s to come).  In no particular order [*SPOILERS AHEAD*]:

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The Truman Show Meets Field of Dreams

I guess this is a WandaVision blog now!

Last time around, I made the following observation (among others):

Likewise, there are perhaps three explanations for Vision.  One, because he’s a synthetic being, albeit a sentient one, the “rule” about resurrection didn’t apply to him the same way it applied to her Pietro (or even to a dog), or the “rule” is purely one of self-restraint for Wanda.

Two, the rule does apply to Vision, but Wanda has somehow found a way to circumvent that rule, albeit at a cost.  Her defiance of the natural order and the associated strain are damaging reality and are what creates the blending of other universes into her own (which is how Evan Peters got there).

Three, the Vision we’re seeing on WandaVision is a different Vision.  The original MCU Vision is dead.  Wanda has his disassembled parts stashed away somewhere, and she pulled a non-dead Vision to her pocket reality the same way she pulled Evan Peters’ Quicksilver there, whether consciously or not.  Vision’s mind has essentially been wiped, pre-Westview, so it’s impossible to say if this could be the case yet.


“Westview is charming as HELL,” huh, Quicksilver?

WandaVision is a weird enough show that I don’t think anything can be absolutely ruled out yet.  For example, why doesn’t Vision know who the Avengers are?  Has his mind simply been wiped, or is this a “different” Vision who comes from a reality where the Avengers don’t exist?  Even with that scenario still (barely) on the table, though, I think the sixth episode of the series makes the second possibility the current leader in the clubhouse.

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Ode to Government Efficiency

Allow me to regale you with a tale of government efficiency and wayward contracting.

I own several acres of land in King William County, Virginia.  It’s a few acres of woods that my grandfather gave me when I was a child.  There is nothing at all remarkable about the land.

I received a new reassessment of my land’s value some months ago.  Despite not having any structures on this land (or even a road that leads to it), the company the county employed to reassess the land determined that said plot was wildly undervalued.

So undervalued, in fact, that they increased the tax assessment by 133 percent.

I should pause here to note that I have never had an issue with King William County, and all of my dealings with them have been courteous and ended in a satisfactory manner.  I have always enjoyed dealing with their staff in the rare instances when I’ve had occasion to do so.

With that said, this massive change in assessed value presented a potential problem.  In the past, I saw the incremental increases as good news—greater property value has an obvious upside.  However, an increase of this magnitude would simply stick me with a huge hike in property taxes, and, at the same time, I would never be able to get such a price if I actually decided to sell the land.

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A Gateway to Endless Possibilities

Prior to the fifth episode of WandaVision, I was already enjoying the show quite a bit.  Probably more than most fans.  Some of the criticism I had seen online was from folks who either didn’t like the slow burn or didn’t enjoy (or were too young to “get”) the satirical waltz through the history of American sitcoms.

Neither issue bothered me.  I love a slow burn.  Hell, LOST is on my Mount Rushmore of TV dramas.  And, as someone who grew up at the dawn of “Nick at Nite” and perpetual syndicated reruns, I get the joke-within-a-joke about television’s longstanding tropes.

That all changed with the fifth entry in the series, appropriately titled “On a Very Special Episode . . . ”

More accurately, it changed with the final minute of that episode.


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Take Your Pick of Super Bowl LV Match-Ups

The content on this site (planet?) has been a little too heavy lately, so allow me to inject a little positivity into the blog.

As a lifelong Washington Redskins fan, my perspective on the past few decades of “Super Bowl season” has been that of a begrudging realist.  Knowing that the Team That Dare Not Speak Its Name doesn’t have a real shot at the conference finals virtually every year is as liberating as it is frustrating.

Since my team hasn’t been in the conference championship game since I was in the eighth grade (and I’m now in my 40s, so that’s quite a stretch), I focus simply on what Super Bowl match-up I want to see most and root accordingly.

Most years, there’s a very clear hierarchy.  Yet, I realized a few days ago that we are absolutely blessed this year.  Each possible combination boasts a solid storyline, thanks in large part to four great quarterbacks at various stages of their careers, all of whom are compelling in their own ways.

That fact will make my favorite football Sunday of the year even better.  I prefer conference championship Sunday for a number of reasons—actual home games (albeit with crowd restrictions this year), the potential for weather (as we’ll see in Green Bay shortly), two games instead of one (or three), and a greater focus on football (and less on fluff and hype).

As far as I’m concerned, there is no bad outcome today in terms of the Super Bowl pairing.  Here’s a rundown of the possibilities: Continue reading

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How We Got Here. Where We’re Going.

“[A] system of free speech confers countless benefits on people who do not much care about exercising that right.  Consider the fact that, in the history of the world, no society with democratic elections and free speech has ever experienced a famine—a demonstration of the extent to which political liberty protects people who do not exercise it.”

— Cass Sunstein, Conformity: The Power of Social Influences

Nothing is easier than giving in to fear.

Fear—even justifiable fear—can be used by those in power as a pretense for further exertion of control over lives they already substantially influence.  History provides an abundance of examples.

In the present case, the heinous violence we saw at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th has opened the door for a reinvigorated effort by powerful public and private institutions to de-platform, de-monetize, and otherwise suppress speech.  Naturally, the proffered rationale is “safety,” and opportunists are predictably using that reasoning as a way to be as broad as possible in clamping down on speech they find objectionable.

I default to skepticism when facing these sorts of potential anti-speech shifts in cultural or legal norms.  That skepticism also explains why I agree with those who have misgivings over the vigor with which influential entities are restricting speech.  I find myself in the (eclectic, perhaps strange) company of the ACLU, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Glenn Greenwald, among others.

The worry here isn’t limited to Twitter’s erasure of President Donald Trump from its platform, which was followed in short order by every other meaningful social network.  These concerns also relate to the suppression of the pre-election New York Post story about Hunter Biden, as well as the selective and collusive destruction of the conservative-leaning Twitter alternative Parler—under the theory that it served to foment and coordinate the Capitol attack, even though, e.g., Facebook played at least as large a role.

This targeting based on politics is troubling enough.  Yet, it was the de-platforming of Trump that most strikingly prompted some of the same anti-speech arguments I’ve been discussing for years.  Specifically, critics dismissing free speech concerns by saying “Twitter (e.g.) is a private company, and can do what it wants.”

I agree.  But there is often a wide gap between “can” and “should.”

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Best of 2020

2020 wasn’t all bad.

I have to say that this was a good year for me personally, demonstrating the value of baseline reclusiveness and living practically as a shut-in even before a pandemic hit.

What seemed to many people to be a nightmarish existence was more or less a lateral move for me.  However, I did save significant time avoiding my heck-ish commute each day—approximately 90 minutes, minimum.  The upshot of this newfound savings is that I finally rededicated myself to this blog.

Ok, “rededicated myself to this blog” is too strong.  Maybe “remembered this blog exists and felt guilty about it” is more accurate.

Things had gotten so sparse ’round these parts that I didn’t even do a best-of piece last year!  That decision wasn’t an oversight.  I just produced so little content that putting together a best-of seemed absurd.

I did better in 2020, authoring 21 pieces of content (not counting this one), all of which published after March, when the pandemic fully “bloomed.”  Of those pieces, here are the handful I liked best:

Untimely Movie Review: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (5/4) – I’m including this one as sort of a representative example of my recommitment to (EVENTUALLY) getting through the Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection.  I managed to get through several entries this year, with more on the horizon.  I’m confident I can finish it at long last in 2021. 

Buy Physical Media (6/6) – Prompted by the sudden rash of digital deletions and warning messages for several series and movies, I wrote this piece as both a defense of free speech and an admonition about the durability of physical media.  It eventually led to a piece that published in the Washington Examiner, which was a personal highlight for me this year.

Destroying Unity Is the First Step (8/11) – In a somewhat prescient post, I noted that a news clip from 1983 discussed something that united people of different races, socioeconomic levels, and political views, but that this very thing had itself become just another divisive topic around which people virtue signal in order to separate themselves from “the other.”  Societal decay abounds.

Two Movies, One Screen (11/2) – Using the “two movies, one screen” metaphor as a jumping-off point, I discussed the political climate surrounding the presidential election, making some broader predictions that looked beyond the actual outcome.

The Worst Possible Outcome (OR: The Baby Hitler Hypothetical) (11/6) – And the inevitable companion piece to “Two Movies, One Screen.”  Here, I detail the election results and match their implications to my previous forecasting.

Overall, it was a decent “comeback” year for this site, unexpectedly bolstered by a bat-borne virus from the Far East.  I hope you enjoyed some of it.  The blog, that is, not the pandemic.  Happy New Year!

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